Paladini Potpie

Adventures within The Crust!

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Ringing in Christmas: The Red Kettle Part 2

Oda MaeI know you don’t think I’m givin’ this four million dollars to a bunch of nuns!” Oda Mae glared at Sam the ghost. It was one of the best scenes from the movie – the two nuns smiling beneficently one moment; then fainting in disbelief.

“Does anything like that ever happen in real life?” I asked Micki, “…Maybe not million dollar checks, but unusual donations like rings and things?”

“Oh yes,” she grinned. “It happens all the time. Once we got a bunch of gold Krugerrand coins, another time there was a stack of hundred dollar bills wrapped in a single dollar…and then there was the time someone gave us their teeth…”

MickiMicki Bizek is the new Salvation Army Kettle Coordinator for the City of Modesto. She moved here from Bullhead City, Arizona, in July when her husband, Kalvin, accepted the position of Overseer for the Salvation Army Homeless Shelter. Micki has been Kettle Coordinator in dozens of cities from Washington to Arizona, so she just sort of naturally fell into the job.

“The Salvation Army is in our blood,” Micki explained. “I just love, love, love our mission and Church – regardless of what city I serve.”  She inherited the vision from her mentors or “adopted parents” (Majors Dan and Ruth Birks, now retired),  and joined the organization in 1982. And she has passed it on. Her daughter and her husband (Lieutenants Joshua and Ryan Boyd) are the Corps Officers, or pastors in Anacortes, Washington.

Scheduling the Red Kettle

If you’re a regular reader of Paladini Potpie, you may remember the post I wrote a few years ago, where I talked of my own experience as a bell ringer, and shared a little of the history of the red kettle.

That article raised so many questions I decided to write a follow-up, so I called Micki and asked if I could drop by and talk with her. I thought I was getting a pretty good jump on the kettle season – after all is wasn’t even the middle of October yet! – but I found out that things were already in full swing!

slotsThere’s a white board in Micki’s office, divided into time slots for bell-ringing shifts. It’s probably 18 feet long, nearly covering her entire wall. Dates from the morning of November 14 till Christmas Eve are posted down the left side of the grid, and 35 sites in Modesto are lined up along the top. That’s a lot of slots to fill!

I saw that only a few scattered boxes had been filled in, regular people who always ring a bell at the same place. But Micki said she expects to start getting calls and filling the volunteer shifts soon.

She said she has already had over 100 applications from people who would like to ring the bell as a job for minimum wage; and that is always a good option. (I talked about that in “The Red Kettle“. But it’s Micki’s dream to man all the kettles with volunteer bell-ringers.

The red kettles do provide “Christmas for the needy”, but they are also the Salvation Army’s main fundraiser for the whole year. More volunteers mean more money for all that good work.

The Salvation Army, Modesto

Adopt a Kettle

Looking at Micki’s whiteboard, I noticed that the entire month of December was filled by Trinity United Presbyterian Church at the Hobby Lobby store. Micki explained that an organization can “adopt a kettle”. People of the organization then have the flexibility to decide among themselves how to man the kettle. They can create shorter or longer shifts that work for everyone’s convenience. An 11×17 laminated sign is set up to identify the group who is ringing the bell. Your group may adopt a site for a day, or for a few weeks. Give them a call!

Match a Kettle

Another thing I found out is that if you (or your family or organization) are just too busy to stand and ring a bell, you can call Micki (209-522-3209) and tell her you would like to “match a kettle”. In this case, you promise to match the funds collected by the kettle of your choice on the day of your choice. An 11×17 sign identifies the person or group who is matching the kettle.

So how much are we talking here?

“Match the funds gathered in a kettle? That sounds like it could be pretty dangerous,”  I thought. “How can you guess how much might be collected in any given kettle on any given day?” Micki explained that you can put a $500 cap on your match.  She said the average kettle brings in about $200.00 a day. The highest a Modesto kettle ever collected was $1,000.00.

Bell Ringing Fun

I’ve always thought it was fun to stand out there and ring the bell and talk to people all day, but Micki Bizek has plans to make bell ringing even more challenging and fun for everyone this year.

December 6 will be Mascot Day, when schools, organizations, and businesses man the kettle, with their mascot ringing the bell.  There will be a nice donated  prize for the highest yielding kettle. And it’s good advertising for your group! If you have a mascot, it’s not too late to join and get involved.

Give Micki a call – 522-3209.

December 12 will be Mayors’ Day, when mayors and their staff from Modesto and neighboring cities personally ring bells at Vintage Faire Mall and try to out-do each other, claiming the prize for the most generous city and most popular mayor.

She also hopes to start “Red Kettle Clubs” in Modesto area high schools, encouraging young people – especially those who have community service to perform – to not only ring a bell at Christmas, but get involved all year; take a tour of the homeless shelter or volunteer some time at the downtown soup line. “It seems like that would be a perfect fit,” she enthused.

So I am all set up for my usual place outside Wal Mart in mid December. I expect lots of you to stop by with dollar bills for my kettle (and maybe coffee for my tummy) I always look forward to it. Every year most frequent comments I get are about how much good this organization does! It makes me proud to be part of the team. And it’s easy to be a part of it. Why not give Micki a call and join the fun!  209-522-3209



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A Broken Connection

half lightIt seemed like the apocalypse without the zombies as I walked into the house. It was filled with an other-worldly kind of light. Andee greeted me with an “I have no idea what went wrong, but nothing seems right.” kind of look on her face. The ballasts were humming and the lights were at half-mast. The GFIs were buzzing and the computers were turning themselves off and then on again. The refrigerator and freezer stopped running and the only sign of life was the dim half glow of the bulb inside.

dark fridgeI made my way to the breaker box, but was surprised to find no tripped breakers. When I unplugged the freezer, the light in the garage went from dim to bright. When I plugged the refrigerator into a standard outlet, the lights in the kitchen dimmed. The electricity was not behaving in a way I had ever known it to behave before.

Andee put the word out to pray.

Huge thanks for the help from my son Matt and my friends Roy, Rick and Kyle, all electricians who talked me off the ledge and walked me through testing circuit after circuit. I was getting wild swings on the meter readings which made it impossible to diagnose the problem, let alone find a solution.

Finally Rick called me and said “I’m coming over.” He set to work tightening connections while listening as I described the symptoms. Finally he said “Nothing with a motor works. You must have had a power spike and MID (our power company) would have a record of it.”

power pole 2I called MID and they sent a very capable technician who concluded that a power line had broken somewhere between the pole and where it connected to the house. He called a crew who converged on the place like a swat team. By 3:30 in the morning our lights were back on and everything was normal again, with the exception of two surge protectors that had fried so the computers they were protecting could live.

We’re feeling very blessed to have our house running normally again; but even more for the prayers and help of our friends and family. Thank you.MID workers at night

John wrote this as a sort of debriefing, journaling piece, the day after our electrical adventure. I call it an adventure now, but at the time it was a pretty scary trial. We didn’t know if we’d be buying new appliances the next day, or having our whole house rewired. Or burned down.

In 30 years of marriage I have never seen my husband so flummoxed. John is very smart. He always rises to the challenge and knows how to figure things out. But in this case I saw him completely at a loss, even with the telephone support of three expert journeyman electricians! Over and over, our son Matthew lamented the 300 miles that separate us. “This is crazy,” he said, “Those readings can’t be right!” But there they were.

We are so thankful that our friend Rick urged us to call the power company.

It didn’t take them long to discover that the problem was not in our house. The line to the power pole had a break in it.

And we know it isn’t good to have a broken connection to the source of power.

I was pondering it the next day:

The light was weak and shaky.
None of the appliances could do their job.
And there was that awful smell.bright light

What a great spiritual lesson. When I am not connected to The Power Source my light is weak and shaky.
I am not able to do my jobs well.
And frankly, I’m pretty stinky!

Jesus talks about this very thing. “Remain joined to me, and I will remain joined to you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. It must remain joined to the vine. In the same way, you can’t bear fruit unless you remain joined to me.” (John 15:4)

He might just as easily have said, “Remain connected to me and I will remain connected to you. You can’t conjure up your own electricity, so you won’t have the power you need to unless we stay connected.”

Thanks to my husband John, for inspiring this blog – and writing most of it!

(You can read John’s blog – Marriage Feast –  by clicking here.)


Unseen Dimensions

When they look at each other all they see is  a straight lineMeet Mr. and Mrs. DVD. They are a well-rounded pair, but they don’t know it. When they look at each other all they see is a straight line.  If they could move around, and circle each other, looking at each other from any direction, it would be  the same. Flat, straight lines.

I, however, am a higher power to Mr. and Mrs. DVD. (I actually created them.)  I can see them as flat lines, but I can also see their perfect roundness.  Mr. and Mrs. DVD can’t even comprehend the idea of roundness.  Mr and Mrs DVD

I’m reading Flatland by Edwin Abbott.  It’s not an easy read, but it’s worth the work. It really makes you think! John read it a few years ago, and it has prompted so many conversations between us – you know those deep, dangling, metaphysical discussions that never resolve, but create more deep, dangling, unresolved ideas.

That’s how Mr. and Mrs. DVD were born.

So here they are. The DVDs are contentedly living on this flat shelf of life. They have no idea of roundness or depth. No concept of the beautiful rainbow shimmer up on their surface. (They can’t even grasp the idea of up.)  All they know is their flat dimensions of length and width.

Their eyes have not seen, and their ears have not heard and their minds can’t even imagine all the dimensions we know. And they can’t imagine the potential they have within themselves.

But I know all about their potential.  I know what I created them for  – to provide stirring music and beautiful pictures!  That’s what’s inside them – their very essence.

So here I am in 3D Timeland. My mind can only comprehend length, width, depth, and time – but physicists and mathematicians keep finding new dimensions.

I looked it up on the internet, (Who would have even imagined the internet 25 year ago?!) and this is what I read “In physics the question is still somewhat open. Originally we believed there were only three, but Einstein demonstrated that time was another dimension, and thus established that there were four (three spatial and one time). Recently, certain problems in physics have suggested that even “higher” dimensions exist. These dimensions are purely (as far as we know) spatial, but are “wrapped up” tightly around themselves, and are thus invisible and undetectable in most situations.

That hurts my head.

The point is this. There is One who is the ultimate High Power – God. He created us. He can see each of our lives in the same dimensions we can. But since He is in a higher dimension, He can see far beyond that. He has created us with eternal potential, and He has plans to give us a future and a hope that is beyond our imagining.

Another dimensionIf someone held a finger just a fraction of an inch above Mrs. DVD she wouldn’t know it. The finger would be in a dimension higher than her experience.  Even if it was almost touching her, she couldn’t comprehend it.

But if she had a soul – intellect and feelings  – she would probably sense the reflection of a higher reality, of something greater than herself.

Our Creator is close. In Him we live and move and have our very being. He is in another dimension, but He created us with souls, and with the ability to catch glimpses of the higher reality reflected all around us. He has given us the capacity to realize there are dimensions far beyond what we see in this world. And He wants to reveal it all to us.


The Blind Leading the Blind

The blind leading the blindWhen we pulled up in front of Ron’s house the first thing I noticed was the startling clean line of porch and shrubbery.  There was nothing to trip over. In fact, a thick doormat was placed in front of the porch itself, so a blind person would know when it was time to step up onto the porch.

Very clever, I thought. I smiled nervously at John as I rang the doorbell. I haven’t met many blind people.

Ron opened the door with an enthusiastic smile, and invited us in. As we all introduced ourselves, I was struck by the fact that he seemed to know exactly where we were standing, and how far to extend a hand to shake.

Several months ago I wrote about meeting Ron Freitas on the phone. We became acquainted after I read his story in The Little House That Cares, a book of stories by blind people, published by the VIPS of Modesto .  VIPS means Visually Impaired Persons Suppoort. When I told Ron I was thinking about putting patches on my eyes, and experiencing a day of blindness, he enthusiastically invited me to his home for a few pointers!

The Braille writerSo here we were!

Ron is a retired resource teacher for the city of Modesto. He worked for the school district for 30 years. It became obvious that he is a teacher when he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out some index cards covered with Braille writing, “How much time do you have?”

John and I grinned at each other. Clearly our visit was not an imposition. Ron was going to enjoy being a teacher as much as I was going to enjoy being a student.

“Be careful,” Mr. Freitas warned, as he turned to lead us into his living room, “there’s a step-down here.”  As we walked he held out the back of his hand so it gently ran along the wall. This is called trailing, he explained, a way of seeing where you are going when you can’t see with your eyes.

The living room was fairly cluttered, but in a precise and orderly way. A table was covered with reading materials and a collection of vitamins and pills.  He explained that a reader, a family friend, comes over to read to him, and also sorts the pills and vitamins into their various compartments of several containers.

The walls were covered with family pictures, and a guitar stood off to the side. Yes, he plays the guitar. And his wife is a very good singer he told us proudly.

trailingHe indicated a desk with some paper and a strange typewriter-like machine.  “This is a Braille writer.  I’ll show you how to use it, but first, let’s take a walk – do you remember what I said about trailing?”  He pulled two different kinds of blindfolds from a desk drawer and handed them out to me, offering me a choice. Or no choice.

How to help a blind personWe walked through several rooms of his house, trailing hands along the walls and counter edges. John followed, taking notes and pictures.  Sometimes, Ron said, he uses his cane in the house if there is company or things have been moved. A cane will give advance warning of anything that might not be normal. You hold the cane in front of you and slowly move it from side to side. When the cane is on your left, you step forward with your right foot, and vise-versa, in a natural rhythm.  There were several canes placed strategically at doorways around the house.

Blindfolded, I followed John and Ron outside, where I practiced using the cane. Ron then showed us the appropriate way to help a blind person.  He said most blind people are glad of help in a strange place or in public, but many sighted people feel awkward about offering.  Simply ask if you can help. When you are guiding a blind person allow him or her to hold your arm just above the elbow and walk at a natural pace, keeping your eyes open for obstacles, unevenness and stops.

There is a lot of help available to blind people today. Ron told us that, among other gadgets, he has a talking watch, thermometers, and pedometer. And you can hear just about anything on the computer.   People who are born blind can learn about the shape of very large things by holding models of cars, elephants etc.

My attempt at the Braille machinethe Braille alphabetBack in the living room, Ron explained the Braille system and machine. The Braille writer has six keys, and using a shorthand system of six dots arranged in differing order, Braille letters and words are pushed into heavier than normal paper. The blind person reads the Braille by running his fingers gently over the tiny impressions.

Ron demonstrated the Braille-writer, then insisted that I put on the blindfold again, and sit down for a turn at the machine.

My respect for blind people soared, as I nervously tried to remember Ron’s instructions on how to sightlessly maneuver those six keys. It was really hard, but I was able write a few simple words.

a tool to learn BrailleOne of the ways to learn the alphabet is with a Braille model with 6 ping pong balls in cells. The balls can be moved around and removed make the various letters.  There are also Braille shorcuts for commonly used words.

It staggered me to think about trying to learn so many new things, but the VIPS book was full of stories about people who became blind in later life and were able to successfully learn, and live victoriously.

Finally we said goodbye to Mr. Freitas, and thanked him for his help, and headed home. It was time to put on my eye patches and experience an afternoon of blindness.

To be continued…


The Red Kettle

I was in the lobby of the Salvation Army filling out a form to be a volunteer bell-ringer. I had only been there about two minutes, and already three people had come in asking for some kind of help. More than a person a minute – I wondered if that pace continued all day.

One thing is for sure: the Salvation Army helps a lot of people.

For the last four years I have taken one single day of the busy Christmas Season to stand outside Walmart with a Red Kettle.  I love it. I meet so many people, and most of them are friendly and want to stand and chat for a few minutes. And always, near the end of my shift, the kettle is so full that I have to poke a pen or something into the slot to push down the bills, and make room for more.

It’s so wonderful – almost everyone puts money in! The comment I hear over and over is “This organization does so much good!”  I agree. And I’m proud to take a small part in their good work.

This year I decided to do a little digging into how it all began.

I looked up The Red Kettle History  and this is what I learned.

In the winter of 1891, Salvation Army Captain, Joseph McFee was distraught because so many poor people in San Francisco were going hungry. He resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner for those hungry, destitute people.

The only problem was how to fund that huge undertaking. Where would the money come from? Captain McFee lay awake worrying, thinking, and praying. Where could he find funds? As he pondered the issue, his thoughts drifted back to his sailor days in Liverpool, England. He remembered how, at Stage Landing, where the boats came in, there was a large, iron kettle called “Simpson’s Pot” into which passers-by tossed a coin or two to help the poor.

The next day Captain McFee placed a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market   Street. Beside the pot, he placed a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” Soon he had the money to fund that first Christmas dinner for 1,000 people.

Six years later, the kettle idea had spread from the west coast to the Boston area. The combined effort nationwide resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the needy. In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided funds for the first mammoth sit-down dinner in MadisonSquareGarden, a custom that continued for many years.

Captain McFee’s kettle idea launched a tradition that has spread not only throughout the United   States, but all across the world. Everywhere, public contributions to Salvation Army kettles enable the organization to continue its year-round efforts at helping those who would otherwise be forgotten.

Today in the United States, The Salvation Army assists more than four-and-a-half million people during a typical Thanksgiving and Christmas Season. This year, because of Hurricane Sandy, there will be an even greater need for warm clothing, hot meals and water. In New York City alone, The Salvation Army has already provided more than 160,000 liters of water, and distributed over 860,000 meals to approximately 200,000 local residents.

Yes, those people are so right when they put money in my kettle and say, “This organization does so much good!

While I was at the Salvation Army office I was able to grab a few minutes from Dan Glaeser, the very busy Christmas Kettle coordinator here in Modesto. I had been curious about the fact that the Salvation Army uses paid workers as well as volunteers. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have all volunteers? I wondered. Dan explained that forty or fifty years ago there were lots of volunteer bell ringers, but now with dual income families and single parent families there are not as many people with time to volunteer.

Of course, there is a premium on volunteer bell-ringers, but there’s something to be said for hiring paid workers too.  Dan said he thinks of it, in part, as job training.  He told me a story of a woman who was new in town. She was recently widowed and had been out of the work force for years.  She didn’t have much confidence, and she really didn’t know where to start. Dan gave her a job for the whole month of December. He said about four days before the end of the month she came to him and apologized because she didn’t want to leave him in the lurch, but she had applied for a job at McDonalds and been hired! She was ecstatic, and so was Dan.  About eight months later Dan said he happened to go into the McDonalds where the woman worked. She recognized him, and happily told him she had been promoted to assistant manager. She was thankful to Dan and the Salvation Army for helping her gain the confidence to enter the work force.

Dan said he treats his paid staff the same way employees would be treated in “the real world”. It’s not just a chance for people to pick up a little extra cash for Christmas. It’s usually people who are out of work, and he expects them to prove that they are employable and professional. If he hired a bell ringer and they did a great job he said he wouldn’t hesitate to give them a job referral.

John and I were at Hobby Lobby on Friday and we stopped and chatted for a few minutes with Paul, who was manning the first kettle we saw this year.  Paul told us he is a paid worker, who has been ringing a bell for 11 years. I told him I was going to write this article and I asked him to tell me his most interesting story. He said his kettle was stolen a few years ago. (Grinch alert!) He was heartsick.  The story was on the news – and lo and behold! – a few days later someone sent the Salvation Army check for $500 to make up the stolen funds!

Peace on earth – goodwill toward men!

Sometimes I tend to be a little outspoken in my belief that the government is too involved in the business of alms-giving.

I maintain that, for the most part, people should take care of each other through personal means, churches, and faith-based organizations. So I guess the busy holiday season is the time to put my money where my mouth is.

There is never a time that I have less time than at Christmas. But in the midst of all that busyness, volunteering only 6 hours a year is like putting a $50.00 bill in the kettle. Plus, it’s fun to be in the middle of all the Christmas scurry and flurry – to make eye contact with people, have pleasant conversations with strangers, and who knows? – you might even get to visit with a friend or daughter dropping by to bring you a cup of Starbucks!

This year many high school student groups, and community organizations, Four H, Cub Scouts, Rotary Club and individuals will volunteer to man the kettles, but they can always use a few more volunteers.

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The Great American Treadmill Trek

We left Modesto on May 6, 1990. We were heading across the country on our DP AirGometer – a fancy new stationary bike that worked the arms and shoulders as well as the legs.  We started east on Highway 132, making our way slowly across the AAA road map.

Every day we jotted down how many miles we went, and every few weeks we added them up and marked them on the map. (This was before the days of Map Quest and other mileage calculating web sites.) I had copied the map’s scale of miles onto a twisty tie (from a loaf of bread). Using it as a flexible little mileage calculator, we followed the curves of the road up through Yosemite and beyond.  John had a red line and I had a yellow. We challenged and encouraged each other, and pretty much stayed together.

When we reached the California-Nevada border we got a Nevada map, and then the following year we got a map of Utah.  Sometimes, just for fun, we did research on the cities and places we traveled through. We often talked about following our route as a road trip one day in real life.

Then, somewhere in Utah in 1995 John had back surgery. Real life. After he recovered we decided to exchange the AirGometer for a regular treadmill. We also decided to start averaging both of our miles and travel together in a single line.

Mile after mile, map after map, and year after year, our journey continued. We counted all the miles we walked on the treadmill and any miles we walked outdoors.

Finally, after 20 years we reached our first destination – The Atlantic Coast!  On our map, and in our mind, we triumphantly arrived in Virginia Beach, home of John’s brother, Mark and his sweet family.

We gave them virtual greetings, but wished we could have stopped by for a visit in real life!

By this time we had 10 road maps – one on top of the other – all stapled to the wall near the treadmill.  Where do we go from here?  I tried to convince John that it was time to have a swimming pool put in the back yard so we could swim laps…across the ocean.  (He just gave me “the look”)

Instead we decided to head north and walk around the perimeter of theUnited States.

We still jot down the miles, add them together, and chart them on the map; but the twisty tie has been replaced by WalkJogRun, a site where I can measure the miles on my computer and then put them on the map.

Since our arrival on the East Coast, we’ve walked north along the beach when there was a beach road. We walk along the highway when it runs near the coast.  We have almost reached another goal. Today we stand at Whiting Bay, the most eastern edge of Maine. (There must be a lighthouse around here somewhere…)

Habakkuk 2:2 says “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.”  (Okay, so we’re making it plain on maps instead of tablets.)

It may be silly, but each goal we come to really feels like an accomplishment. Our imaginary destinations have created tangible victories, and encouraged us to keep on walking. We’ve walked thousands of miles.  Someone has said “Success is not a destination. It’s a journey.” So now we’re getting ready to journey inland, up along the Maine-Canada border, to the farthest northern corner of our country. Who knows what adventures await!


He Knows My Name

I love to think about how God knows us by name before we’re remotely aware of him. He’s laying the groundwork for some really own great plan or surprise for us, before it ever occurs to us to ask for direction. So many times we look back on the way things came together and we say, “If I hadn’t been in such and such a place…this or that might not have happened….”  But I’m convinced that there are no simple coincidences.

I didn’t know this at the time, but now I can say I’m very sure that it was God who gave me the idea to take a certain sociology class.  I didn’t need that particular class to graduate; It was a lot of hard work and there were other choices that would have fulfilled the same requirement. But for some reason this one caught my attention. So there I was, writing a sociology paper – a huge project! – about the three-gereration Americanization of a family from another country.

Fortunately I had just “happened” to meet a guy who was full blooded Italian. Third generation in this country.

John and I had been on only a couple of dates when we took a drive over to Novato so I could interview his Grandfather, and see the family roots.

Zippity-doo-dah!  It was a day to be happy! Glorious blue skies over one of the lovliest little towns I’d ever seen. I met Grandpa Guido, and chatted with Aunt Anna. I met Uncle Cherubino, and saw the house Grandpa built, where all the little Paladini cousins played. I even took a picture of John standing beside the street sign that said “Paladini Road”.

I already had lots of material for my paper when John came up with still one more idea. “Let’s drive down this road and I’ll show you the house where my Grandfather worked for shares of the crops before he built his own place.”

We drove down a long shaded lane and stopped a little distance from the white farmhouse. We didn’t want to go too close because it was private property, owned by someone we didn’t know. I drank in the view – the most picturesque little ranch!  We stood by the car talking, and enjoying the day, and that first shy feeling of falling in like.

“Hallooo,” a man was walking toward us. “Can I help you?”

John apologized for trespassing, and explained that his Grandpa had worked here, and that this was where his dad grew up.

Mr. Weidemeyer knew all about the Paladini family and became instantly hospitable!  “Come on!  I’ll show you around.” He explained that he worked in San Francisco, and it was sort of a hobby for him to be a weekend rancher, working a few acres of his land land with some of the antique farm equipment.

He knew all about the history of the place, and the Paladinis. We traipsed around, looking at this or that, and finally ended up in his kitchen where he offered us a drink of lemonade or something. He introduced us to his wife.  “This is John Paladini, and this is Andrena.  Andrena Paladini — what a beautiful name!”

“Thank you.” I may have blushed, but I didn’t correct him. Neither did John. Even though we barely knew each other, I think we both were thinking that there was a certain ring to it!  (And, of course, the Lord had that name in mind for me all along.)


Not a Flat Adventure – Part 1

Newspaper photo of Robin and a llama on the opening hike of the Ohlone Trail, May 15, 1987

Robin’s dad laid out the Ohlone Wilderness Trail 25 years ago, and a very young Robin – along with my friend Emily and her llamas – were part of the group that made the first hike to open it.  So you can imagine that I was thrilled to be part of The Fellowship of the Four  who planned an “anniversary hike” on the trail this spring!

Robin, who is now a biology teacher in Southern California, was excited to return to her roots and hike in the land of her childhood.  Emily and Kathy have llamas, and looked forward to the hike as a training experience for one of their new young animals. I just felt privileged to be included for any reason.

At the ranger station, on the morning we began our trek, Robin was as giddy as a little girl! She and her family used to live here…and she played in that creek…and the old green barn hadn’t changed a bit (except now it was a visitors’ center, which happened to be closed that day) We walked along the water looking for the remnants of an old bridge. Robin told us about sitting and watching out the window of the ranger station as a violent storm washed the bridge away years ago.

left to right: Robin, Emily, Kathy and Andrena at the trailhead with "Josh"

Her dad, David Lewton, was Park Ranger for The East Bay Regional Park District, and the family made their home in a rustic cabin, deep in the park.  They didn’t have electricity, and although they had running water in the house, they didn’t have a flush toilet. Her mom cooked on a wood stove, or sometimes with propane gas.It was the life they chose, and Robin says that even as a child, she knew she had benefits that could never be purchased with such modern amenities as electricity or television.

She told us about going to school each day in the modern world, and then returning home to her adventurous real life in the wilderness park.

She said sometimes she spent the night with friends in town, and their lives seemed sort of flat. It was never really dark because there were always street lights, and little lights on the appliances in the home.  It was never really completely quiet.  And when she woke up in the morning it was always the same temperature – never hot and never cold. It was nice enough, she admitted, but just sort of flat.

I think the Lord must have been grinning during the weeks we were planning our trip.  We set it up for Easter break since Robin is a teacher. We’d had a remarkably mild, dry winter and spring, and we felt confident that the lovely weather would continue.  Little did we know that our three day hike would be during the biggest rain and wind and hail storm to hit California this year.  It would definitely not be a flat adventure!  (To be continued.)

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Sean’s Quilt

Noralee and I met when we were teens.  We went to rival high schools, but we didn’t meet until just after graduation, when we worked together — a first job for both of us — at the grand opening of a local TGY store. It was a temporary job, and only lasted a few weeks, but our friendship has lasted for years.

Noralee’s son, Sean had melanoma surgery for a large birthmark three years ago. The doctors thought they got everything and he didn’t need chemo or radiation.

Like any good mommy, Noralee said she kept bugging him about getting follow up check-ups but he didn’t – until Nov 2011 when he began to experience a lot of pain.

By January the cancer was everywhere. As of the beginning of February Sean could eat and drink only very little, but he kept a positive attitude. He got to see all of his friends that last week of his life, and he passed away on February 22 – one month ago today.

It stuns me. I grieve for my friend and her family. I purpose to remember how fleeting and fragile life is.

Noralee says “You know, it would be easy to ask, ‘Why us?’ But why not us? We all have stuff we need to go through. God doesn’t love us any less because of it. I don’t know how we’d get through it without God. One friend reminded me that as much as I loved Sean, God loves him even more. Every day is a choice to love or hate, to get up or stay in bed, to laugh or cry.”

I have asked Noralee if I may share the following essay she wrote shortly after Sean’s death.

Noralee's son, Sean, with his sister, Cheryl, who created the quilt.

The Quilt

By Noralee Cole

On that deceptively mild January day when she found out that her brother’s cancer had returned and was terminal, my daughter conceived of and began work on the quilt.  It was a patchwork of four-inch, vibrantly hued diamonds representing the colorful and unique life of her brother.  Like him, the fabric displayed an underlying current of motion in the subtle pattern of watered silk on cotton.

Alternating diamonds of black highlighted the boldness and life in the rich jewel tones while reminding us of the darkness and finality of death.  The colors paid homage to the active, humorous, friendly, and charming man he was.  The rainbow pattern affirmed his lifestyle, one that her experience and faith did not normally acknowledge.  The quilt honored the whole person her brother was and quietly blessed him.

Around the central pattern of simple squares was a black banner quilted with words of encouragement that she wanted to express, but couldn’t always verbalize.  Health, happiness, love, and peace were just a few of her wishes for him.  Surrounding that was an orange ribbon of cars, representing the overwhelming passion he had since he was a small child.  She spent days piecing the squares together while our lives were falling apart.

Quilts have always been more than mere objects of warmth.  They represent a woman’s capacity for creation.  They provide a comforting embrace of love.  As the functionality of quilts has been replaced in modern times with less time and labor-intensive blankets and comforters, the quilt still remains a creative expression of beauty and love.  Like this one, they are often works of art.

When I saw it completed, I was in awe of the artistic beauty of the quilt.  Then I asked myself a question that I could not express aloud.  “What will happen to the quilt when he passes?”  My sobs were for the anticipation of losing my son to this earthly existence.  I don’t think my daughter understood that they were also in gratitude for her outpouring of love and acceptance for him; something he might not have understood in any other way and sorely needed.

My daughter poured her love into a quilt that was an outward expression of the care she gave him in his illness.  When he went to the hospital it went with him and wrapped him in the comfort of her love when she could not be there.  I did not see it at the funeral home.  Maybe it continues to provide the earthy comfort and love that quilts have always provided to their owners.  Perhaps it is wrapped and put away until grief subsides.

Thank you, my daughter, for the loving tribute of the quilt, a symbolic enmeshing of the patchwork of your life and his.  As your life is about healing, may your hands continue to express your love and emotions through the lovely, homey art of quilting.  And may the recipients know and appreciate the hidden meaning in each piece.

Sean's Quilt, displayed at the celebration of his life.

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The Mousetrap

With a post called The Mousetrap, you might think a booklover such as I would be leading into a book review or commentary on Agatha Christie’s famous mystery. But this is even better. 

I guess this is one of those stories that are told and retold, but I heard it for the first time a couple of weeks ago from Rev. Stanley Long, of South Bay Community Church, in Fremont.  It’s  thought provoking, and so cute that I smiled all day.

I won’t tell it exactly as Dr. Long did, but here’s the gist of it.

Little Mouse lived in a cozy condo in the wall of Farmer’s house. It was a good life and Little Mouse was well provided for.  He didn’t realize Farmer and his wife considered him to be a pest.  Until one day he peeked out his tiny mouse hole and saw them open a innocent looking Home Depot bag, and take out a mouse trap!  Little Mouse was aghast!

In a panic, he ran out into the farmyard where a chicken was industriously pecking at scratch.  “There’s a mousetrap in the house, there’s a mousetrap in the house!” he screamed.

The chicken stepped back apace and shook her head. “Mr. Mouse, I’m sorry for you, but this doesn’t affect my life, so I can’t be bothered by it.”  No doubt she was remembering her notorious ancestor, Chicken Little who had caused a similar stir in the barnyard some years back. And all for nothing.

Little Mouse scurried to the pigpen. Wringing his tail he poured out his torrent of fear. “There’s a mousetrap in the house!”

“Sorry Mouse,” the pig shrugged, “but there’s nothing I can do about it.”  She callously returned to slurping her slops.

Discouraged, Little Mouse approached the cow in the hope of help or advice. But the cow just stared straight ahead, chewed her cud, and pretended that she didn’t hear.

Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Little Mouse went back to the Farm House feeling very alone.  

That night, the very walls of his cozy condo shook when a loud snap reverberated through the house. The farmer’s wife rushed downstairs to see what was caught in the mousetrap.  

In the darkness, she didn’t realize that it was not the pesky little mouse, but the trap had caught the tail of a poisonous snake.  In the dimness she reached toward the sprung trap, and the very much alive snake bit her! No doubt the snake was feeling particularly venomous over the injury to his tail.

Little Mouse watched as Farmer rushed his wife to the hospital.

And he saw her when she came home a few days later. She still had a fever, but the hospital staff said she would recuperate more quickly at home with a little TLC and Fresh Chicken Soup.

Looking out his hole, Little Mouse watched the Farmer head to the chicken coop with his hatchet.  

Little Mouse watched day after day as Farmer’s wife continued to be ill. Friends and neighbors came to sit with her day and night. So many caring people – but Farmer had to feed them. 

So he butchered the pig.

In spite of all the tender loving care, and the good chicken soup, Farmer’s wife didn’t get well. She died.

And so many people came to the funeral that Farmer had to have the cow slaughtered to provide enough food for the mourners.  

The moral of the story is that we’re all connected. We might think, “It has nothing to do with me,” but we never know how the misfortune of someone else will affect our own lives.